Web Roundup IV: communication moods, the right words and the ‘Dithering’ piece


Please email me at heid.jerstad@ed.ac.uk with finds/tips for the next roundup :)

Welcome to the revamped Weather Matters site, in time for northern hemisphere autumn and the start of term here in Edinburgh - as always, feedback welcome!

A report recently came out in Nature Geoscience tentatively readjusting the carbon ‘budget’ i.e. the amount available to ‘spend’ (emit) before the planet would cross the 1.5 degree threshold. This has sparked off some discussion (see Glen Peter’s piece in Science Nordic) and this article by Ellie Mae O'Hagen in the Guardian on whether optimism is counterproductive (but pessimism may also be) - so what mood should we be going for? Perhaps the point should be that different moods suit different contexts. 


I was at a talk hosted by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi in August 2017 where a senior government official extolled the virtues of increased reliance on coal to a, I must admit, not very enthused audience (TERI is an environmental organisation), while blaming foreigners who wish to undermine development for a movement away from coal (I was the only visibly foreign person in the audience, as far as I could tell). He emphasised saving money and getting electricity to every village, while denigrating off-grid projects. One mood there. 


On Friday the 15th of September I organised a workshop here at the University of Edinburgh where a dozen academics and practitioners discussed our work, how to approach climate change, rhythms, community resilience and the funding system (see Beth Cullen’s writeup on the workshop). Engaging on the topics was only part of the event, connecting with colleagues certainly had its part, but not least was the energising effect of hearing about others out there working on different, but connected things, gaining inspiration and food for thought (or so said the feedback forms). Another mood there. 


The following Tuesday I attended a meeting establishing a Zero Carbon movement for Edinburgh (no web presence yet). This was not about academic work, unlike the workshop the previous week, but the community engaging. Led by David Somervell, who has been a vital force in the University of Edinburgh, changing how the heating system works and encouraging collaborative academic work on energy, it brought together students and citizens to galvanise the grassroots level work on community food, local transport, renewable energy to join up into a larger movement aiming for a zero carbon society (with the next event planned for the 15th of October). A third mood here. 


We are on a trajectory where we need new words, as George Monbiot writes in his piece on word choice with reference to the natural world. New words to speak to these different moods. One recent example of great word use is the piece from On Being, We should never have called it Earth, by Kate Marvel:

...Accepting that gas means danger is a sad condition of modernity. But we imagine rancid air that tickles then chokes, yellow clouds on a battlefield in Flanders. We accept that burning is warmth, but that its byproducts may linger and mix without color, odor, or taste seems too strange. Linger they do though...Someday I must tell my son what I have done...A monster awaits in the deep...We know this. We put it there.

Another is this New York magazine piece from July called The uninhabitable earth on CO2 in the air reducing human cognitive capacity and other observations outside the many-times repeated bringing together the known impacts of climate change.


Clear and direct word use makes this Oxfam blog piece by Duncan Green on impact, this time of research, excellent. Communication and impact are, of course, part of the same story. An amazing-looking event in Edinburgh organised by the school of architecture and landscape architecture that I was sadly unable to attend, but the programme is worth careful mining http://www.postcardsfromtheanthropocene.com/. Also housed by an architecture department is the Monsoon Assemblages project I mentioned last roundup at Westminster, they have now uploaded their talks to youtube - I highly recommend them, Sean Lally on perception - starting at the body or starting in the environment, Stine Simonsen Puri on rain bettors, and others. 


Other large projects underway which you may or may not be familiar with include the Naturvation project under Horizon 2020 at Durham Geography (among other places), the Landslip project at Kings College London (among other places) on predicting and alleviating the negative impacts of landslides in India and the AdaptationCONNECTS project in Oslo which looks at coffee cultivation, tourism and art in the context of climate change. 


A lot of exciting things are going on in the environmental humanities (see for instance the Australian Environmental Humanities hub, Edinburgh Environmental Humanities and The Seed Box (Sweden)).  Alf Hornborg recently wrote a piece Dithering while the planet burns: anthropologists' approach to the Anthropocene (paywalled) which makes some excellent points about the beautiful poetic language of some of the work in this field, which is great, but where we also need to be cautious that this does not detract from the communicative effect of the words. As scholars and students, I read him as saying, we need to pay attention to the purpose of our work beyond these aesthetics. But please do go and read the piece, if you have institutional access. 


This autumn I’m looking forwards to the Knowledge, Culture, Ecologies conference in Chile where I’ll be talking about cement at a panel organised by Cristian Simonetti and also the American Anthropological Association conference, where Julie Soleil Archambault and I have a panel on cement and there is a range of interesting-looking climate change panels. 


Finally, Mike Hulme’s keynote from the RAI conference on Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change in 2016 is now available. I highly recommend it!